Alex Salmond inquiry: 'It is not a cover up' says Nicola Sturgeon on redaction of Alex Salmond evidence

Nicola Sturgeon was under pressure over the Alex Salmond allegations.Nicola Sturgeon was under pressure over the Alex Salmond allegations.
Nicola Sturgeon was under pressure over the Alex Salmond allegations.
An under-pressure Nicola Sturgeon has hit back at accusations she misled Parliament over when she first knew of sexual harassment allegations against Alex Salmond and denied there has been a “cover up” after parts of his written evidence to a Holyrood committee were redacted.

The First Minister faced intense questioning from opposition party leaders over the decision by the Crown Office to have certain paragraphs of Mr Salmond’s evidence pertaining to when she first knew of the allegations against him removed, and why the name of one of the civil servant complainers was allegedly leaked to her predecessor.

Ms Sturgeon repeatedly said that there was no “cover up” over the redactions to Mr Salmond’s submission, denied that the complainer’s name had been revealed, and accused MSPs of attempting to “unfairly trash” the reputation of Scotland’s independent justiciary.

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Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tories Holyrood group leader, pressed Ms Sturgeon on the redactions while Scottish Labour interim leader, Jackie Baillie, said there was “something rotten at the core of the SNP poisoning our institutions”.

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Ms Davidson said the First Minister had challenged Alex Salmond to produce evidence for his claims of a conspiracy against him “only for the Crown to then demand sections be censored"

She added: “Alex Salmond’s evidence states ‘the First Minister told parliament she first learned of the complaints against me when I visited her home on 2nd April 2018. That is untrue and a breach of the ministerial code.’ That’s one of the sections the Crown Office intervened with parliament to remove – despite the fact it’s been widely published elsewhere.

“It doesn't risk identifying complainers which we all agree is an important safeguard for women who have already been grossly let down by her government, so what is it about those two sentences that are so damaging they should be censored or is it just they are damaging to the First Minister?

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“All the redacted parts are important because they’re exactly the parts that expose the First Minister. Does she understand that this looks like a cover up when the evidence redacted is the most damaging to her personally?”

A visibly angry Ms Sturgeon said that "every single allegation and claim and assertion” made by Ms Davidson had been included in her written evidence to the committee submitted last August, and she had been waiting since then to appear at the committee.

“That’s not a cover up. I put it in my evidence to the committee months ago. So it’s not a cover up. I expect to be fully questioned on all these matters on Wednesday next week,” she said.

“Scrutiny of me and the Scottish Government, because the Scottish Government has made a mistake in this process, is absolutely necessary and I don’t shy away from that, but anyone who is suggesting that prosecution decisions or decisions the Crown Office takes in upholding court orders is in any way politically driven is not only wrong, and lacking in any shred of evidence, but they are signing up to a dangerous conspiracy theory which risks undermining the integrity and well deserved reputation of Scotland’s independent justice system.

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“All of us have a responsibility to conduct this debate in a way that does not unfairly trash the reputation of people doing their jobs independent of government.

"Scrutiny of me is important and legitimate. What is not, is to pursue a conspiracy theory, a scorched earth policy, that threatens the reputation and integrity of Scotland’s independent justice institutions just because you happen to dislike this government and to sacrifice all of that at the alter of the ego of one man.”

Ms Davidson said it was the First Minister who was “damaging the institutions it’s her responsibility to uphold” and added: “Majority votes by members of this chamber to produce legal advice ignored, crucial evidence freely available elsewhere censored, promises of openness and transparency broken, the chief executive of Scotland’s ruling party caught calling for the police to be pressured, the reputation of the Scottish Government tainted, the standing of this parliament diminished, a culture of secrets and cover up that is growing, and all taking place on Nicola Sturgeon’s watch. Is saving your own skin worth all the damage that you’re doing?”

Ms Sturgeon said that was a “litany of nonsense” and Ms Davidson should not “lecture on democratic integrity" when she was going to “dodge an election and take a seat in the House of Lords”.

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She added the “most important” thing to her was Scotland’s reputation and the “integrity of our institutions and I will always act in a way that protects that. "It’s a strange cover up when I offer the information in published written evidence to the committee, it’s hardly a cover up when I’ve been waiting for months with five postponed dates to appear before the committee.

"It used to be possible in this country to have rigorous, robust political debate with a scorched earth conspiracy theory damaging the integrity of the institutions of this country. It’s not me doing that.”

Asked by Scottish Labour’s Jackie Baillie – who sits on the Holyrood committee investigating the government handling of sexual harassment complaints – said it was “astonishing” that the identity of one of the complainers had been “revealed” to Alex Salmond’s former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, whom Ms Sturgeon had met with on March 29, 2018.

"This is an extraordinary breach of confidentiality,” she said, demanding to know “on who’s authority” the name had been revealed.

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Nicola Sturgeon accused her of “accepting at face value Alex Salmond's account of all of this” and added: “I do not accept Alex Salmond’s account of much of this which is why I will go through in detail what did and did not happen when I sit in front of the committee.”

She said the complainers voices had been “lost” in the process and their motives “maligned”, which was “deeply unfair”. "Accepting at face value the conspiracy theories and account of the man the women accused of harassing them seems to me to be quite a strange way of supporting and standing up for those women,” she said.

But Ms Baillie said “standing up for women takes more than warm words” and added: “A complainer was named which is a fundamental break down in truss it’s beyond belief that anyone would tell the name of a complainer to the former chief of staff for Mr Salmond which was then passed on, how on earth is that protecting women? It’s a gross breach of confidentiality.”

Ms Sturgeon said that she would set out all her answers at the committee but that she had “refused to sweep the allegations under the carpet” and did not regret doing that.

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However the issue was also raised by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie who said Ms Sturgeon needed to confirm whether the name of a complainer was given to Mr Salmond's former chief of staff or say “categorically that did not happen? Did the First Minister investigate this matter to find out the truth, because an absence of action from the First Minister could be negligence in that respect because there is corroborating evidence this did happen so is the First Minister saying they are lying?”

Ms Sturgeon said that to “the very best of my knowledge I do not think that happened” and added “there is a committee process under way right now and also a process separate to the committee where the independent adviser to the ministerial code is looking at these matters and they should take their course. That’s the right and proper way to proceed.”

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